UPDATE: The Fresno County coroner confirmed that Pearson was murdered early Thursday morning, shortly after his mistaken release. He was found in the middle of a Fresno street with “fatal wounds” to his torso and head, and was transported to Community Regional Medical Center, where he later died. Police have a suspect in custody, according to the Fresno Bee.
A jury in Fresno County Superior Court accidentally cleared Bobby Lee Pearson, a suspected burglar with a long rap sheet, after mistakenly signing a “not guilty” verdict form, according to the Fresno Bee. Judge W. Kent Hamlin was forced to set the man free, because the verdict was already “on the record.”
The jury was apparently undecided on Pearson’s guilt, voting 8-4 in favor of a guilty verdict, constituting a mistrial that would require prosecutors to re-try him in new proceedings. But the jurors were confused by the verdict forms, saying there was no form to sign saying they were “hung” on the decision.
“I can’t believe it,” Judge Hamlin reportedly said after setting the man free. “I can’t change it because double jeopardy has already attached. This has never happened to me in more than 100 jury trials that I have done.”
Pearson and two co-defendants were accused of stealing a video surveillance system and a gun from a Fresno apartment in May of last year. After one of the co-defendants took a plea deal, prosecutors tried to pin burglary and street terrorism charges on Pearson and the remaining co-defendant.
Shortly before lunch, the jury returned a guilty verdict on charges of burglary and grand theft against Pearson’s co-defendant, but cleared Pearson of the same charges. During lunch, before the trial was set to resume to decide on the separate street terrorism charges, one juror told Judge Hamlin that he had voted for a guilty verdict for Pearson.
The jury’s confusion forced the judge to outright dismiss the street terrorism charges against the men and order Pearson free.
Pearson was described by the Bee as being a “career criminal” with multiple felony convictions in his past, including felony possession of a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle, corporal injury to a co-habitant, and carrying a concealed weapon.
When the jurors had filed out of the courtroom, defense attorney Linden Lindahl reportedly told the judge to “take a deep breath.”
Lindahl said the jury was made up of mostly college-aged men and women, possibly on summer break from school.
“I call it a June jury,” he said in the report. “I guess they see things differently than our normal jurors.”